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Sub-Genre Media Newsletter:
Semi-frequent musings on indie film, media, branded content and related items from Brian Newman.

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Brian Newman & Sub-Genre Media

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CES Quick-Takes

I attended the madhouse that is CES for the first time this year, and it will likely take me a week to process all that I saw and learned. While I took some meetings, and did the requisite networking, I spent a lot of time on the floor gazing into our future. The few film industry people I knew seemed to spend most of their time in their booths or in meetings, and wondered why I’d spend so much time on the floor. But as my good friend, and trusted guide to all things CES, Meyer Shwarzstein (of Brainstorm Media) told me - you have to visit the floor because that’s where you’ll see what’s happening next in our business.
Unless you are a brick, you probably heard a lot of the news out of Vegas, but the big things this year were: all things Artificial Intelligence; robotics; VR and AR; 5G; Privacy; 8K screens; drones; IOT and smart homes; Virtual assistants and self-driving/flying transportation. But here’s my quick takeaways:
8K Screens are game-changers: Yes, we’ve all seen big screens, and we’ve had 4K and great sound-systems for quite some time, but when you stand in front of the new wall-sized 8K screens from Samsung, and roll-up OLED TVs from LG, you really wonder why the fuck anyone would go to a movie theater again. Aside from artificial windowing practices delaying my purchase, and the slight delay we’ll get before people can pay for and adopt these new screens, they’re simply better than any theater screen and all arguments in favor of theaters fall away (oh, it’s a group experience...I have Facebook, and can invite over my friends, etc.).  And yes, I am drooling over that roll-up screen.


VR/AR works...for games: Oh, the high hopes we had for VR. But at CES, it was clear that people have made some cool games, but not much else. As CNET put it so well, “In 2019, VR is a sideshow in a theme park, a marketing stunt, a slide in a PR PowerPoint presentation, a niche hobby for people locked in rooms with a ton of money to spend, and -- worse -- no one seems to know what direction we're headed in, or even what virtual reality should be.” Maybe my upcoming trip to Sundance’s New Frontier will change my opinion, but at CES, VR was best when being used for a cool game, but most of them weren’t games you’d pay for more than once, or want to own.
Autonomous Vehicles are here, want them or not, as are Autonomous Cameramen: You could get an autonomous Lyft, although everyone else will swerve around you - killing others in the process, because they just don’t trust them. There was an autonomous 16-wheel big-rig, autonomous delivery robots, drones, prototypes for autonomous flying cars. That’s all well and cool, and it probably means I’ll be catching up on more films while a robot drives me to Vegas in the future. But the autonomous/robotic tracking cameras were also all the rage. Multiple companies debuted cameras that can follow individuals with or without sensors - and from tiny cameras on your phone to gigantic camera arrays that can capture an entire sporting event, or drone cameras that can follow any mountain climber up a wall without getting tired. Lots of company’s essential pitch was: you can’t afford to hire a film team, but our robot cameras can do the work for you. Look out my filmmaker friends.


Distributors wanted: Attending CES with a new product, no matter how good, is a bit like making a little indie film and going to Cannes (or Sundance/Toronto/Berlin): it’s easy to get lost, and hard to stand out, yet thousands attempt it every year against all odds and a few make it.
The parallels with the film business are unending - the big guys have bright and shiny booths, they take out ads all around town and have armies of people trying to grab your attention to buy their new shiny object. The little folks are stuck into Eureka Park, itself a cavernous building with thousands of competitors, and they get a tiny booth to hawk their wares. No one has taught them how to market themselves, they don’t have any sense about how to pitch their own project (because they just focused on making it), and to make matters worse - the biggest movers and shakers can’t be bothered to even visit “the floor,” instead preferring to take meetings in suites and do business away from the plebes.
There are country-sponsored zones, where Holland or Japan spends money to promote its industry (just like we have Unifrance with a booth at Toronto). And you can spend your lifetime crafting something unique and cutting edge, only to be placed next to some gimmicky crap that draws away all of the attention. Right next to these robotic chicken heads, clapping away… a poor guy who built an open-AI with deep learning that can teach itself to locate humans or cell-phones or your watch in a video in real time (or anything else you want it to do, actually). He tried to be good natured about it, but admitted “people seem weirdly attracted to the clapping robot chickens.”

And what sign did hundreds if not thousands of start-ups have on their booth? Distributors wanted. Please, someone, anyone with any knowledge of the market, please help me bring this to the masses - I know they’ll like it. And unfortunately, most of those distributors aren’t even visiting their booths.


We are the Robots: But if I learned one thing, it’s that the robots are already taking over by...well, turning us into the robots. Take for example the multiple kitchen tools - that read you the recipe, and tell you what to do and where everything is, and whether its fresh and how many that you can do the cooking. Shouldn’t the robot be doing that?
Example after example of this dynamic was on display at CES, but to be honest, you need look no further than your likely email program - Gmail. Now that I have auto-complete turned on for my emails, my only reason to exist is to push the tab button, approving the text it has already guessed for me. Again, I’m the robot, and we’re barely into this revolution.
This message was written by my robot. I just typed the words it dictated to me.

Stuff I'm Reading


Sundance’s Creative Distribution team surveyed film distributors about what they want, and how they operate, and published the results online. This one has been making the rounds, but just in case you missed it, it’s a great service to the field (done in conjunction w/ the great Dear Producer newsletter, which you should read if you don’t already).
The Big Winner of the Golden Globes? Netflix and Hulu. And they did it by giving the consumer what they want, producing an overwhelming amount of content ,and by just generally breaking all the rules.

We’re stuck with click-bait, intrusive ads, no privacy and data collection, because that’s all that works online, right? Bullshit, says Zeynep Tufeki in a great little article in Wired. And it can be done through a little bit of innovation. Me: It’s high time we stop believing the old arguments and push for some new ones.
Meanwhile, a few AI experts tell us what's ahead for 2019:
As expected, some feel that we are more years away from the innovations that companies like Google are promising, others feel that the future is foreboding, while others see Ai enhancing user daily life.
But at the very least, A robot (AI) can now spot art forgeries by just one brush-stroke. Next step - making the same art (forgery?) from what it's learned about famous artists…


Sony just launched an Augmented Reality app-based adaptation of an exhibit formally at the Brooklyn Museum. David Bowie Is will allow users to explore the full museum show in detail from their own home, and for about half the cost.

News, Media and Culture:
Wall Street has an idea on how Disney could beat Netflix: But guess what - it’s about getting rid of windows for its own content. But it’s clear that Disney will not do that as Iger is fond of keeping theaters happy (for now).
Disney’s Bob Iger Talks Streaming, Park Plans, and Learning from Kodak. Iger is one of the few big media honchos who deserves his job - he’s smart - so listen to this podcast or read the interview to see what he thinks is next for the Mouse and culture.
The BBC reminds us that Golden Globes and Grammy's aside, the gaming industry is bigger than video and music combined.
And it all comes down to three properties in 2019: Fifa 19 (A realistic soccer simulation), Red Dead Redemption 2 (An open world western ala Grand theft Auto), Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 (A military shooter riding on the coattails of this years most popular, but also free to play game, Fortnite). It goes to show that gaming is currently the most innovative entertainment category, and most profitable, and it doesn’t even have a televised awards show.
Germany’s Far Right Upset over Receiving free tickets to Schindler’s List
Steven Spielberg’s decision to bring Schindler’s List back to theatres all around the world to spark discussion has been seen as an attack from Germany’s far right party AfD. But what can you expect when most young people (18-35)  know “very little” about the holocaust.  
Podcast from Mass Media Expo:
I recently spoke on a panel at the Mass Media Expo in Boston, and the great team from the GoCreativeShow Podcast was there interviewing the guests.
They've just posted the interviews, and they are a great run-down for anyone interested in the current state of media, and what's going on in media in New England.
My segment is in Part One (55:00-1:05:00) and other guests in that episode speak a lot about the rise of branded content. Check it out at these links
Part 1
Part 2
Copyright © 2019 Brian Newman, All rights reserved.

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